Around Portland

The other day Lowe asked Ouest if she wanted to play photo booth. I’d never heard of this before, but within seconds he was dressing her up in boas and taking her picture. They played this for days, giggling the whole time. The pictures below are theirs, obviously.

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We’ve been trying to enjoy the great weather as much as possible lately. In Portland it can end at any time now, after which it will be gray and wet for six months.

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Hitting up a nearby brew pub with a friend. We go to this place not because the food is any good, or the beer is special in some way—no, we go because they have a children’s play area.

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Bridge City. My mom only lives about five minutes from downtown, but we don’t visit the city very often because the neighborhoods of Portland are so great on their own. But we decided to pop down there and show the kids a few of the sites anyway.

It’s funny—or sad if you look at it that way—that we’ve traveled the world, and spent years in Mexico with our kids, yet I’ve never felt as uncomfortable walking around with them as I did here in Portland. The homeless situation is completely out of control. Some 1,800 people spend each night on the streets here because the shelters are full. It’s a terrible problem. And I’m not saying that in a, “Oh, it’s a terrible problem for me,” kind of way. I’m saying it’s a terrible problem for the homeless. And unfortunately, where you find a lot of homeless you also find a lot of mental illness. It seemed that on every street we walked down we passed someone screaming obscenities at imaginary people, or couples cussing each other out on the brink of assault, or just sleeping on the sidewalk with no clothes on. Not fun while trying to show the kids around.

Portland is a great city, but it has some serious problems to contend with.

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This Keep Portland Weird sign is painted on the back of a club, right across the wall of a pay parking lot. I imagine the club owner thinks it’s hilarious that hundreds, if not thousands, of people a day walk into this parking lot and take their picture in front of it. Meanwhile, the guy working the parking lot spends his entire day chasing people off. He told us we couldn’t take a picture of it because it was private property. So we stepped backwards two steps and took our picture from the sidewalk. Then a car came in and he had to attend to them. While he did so a dozen people in three different groups walked right in and started to take pictures. Clearly, this guy has the worst job in Portland. Oh, and it’s also directly across the street from Voodoo Doughnuts, where a line forms around the block pretty much day and night.

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On this particular day we drove out to the Hood River area to pick some apples. Picking apples is kind of fun, and when you have a cart and a big box it’s also pretty hard to pick with any sort of self-control. We ended up with close to a hundred apples. It’s hard to even give away that many apples to friends and neighbors. They are darn good apples, though.

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Lowe taught himself how to levitate items between his hands. Kind of cool.

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Mount Hood.




I was born to a sixteen-year-old girl—she’d turn seventeen in the hospital two days after giving birth. She was smart, pretty, from a decent family that loved their kids, and completely unprepared to be a teen mother. She’d known from the start that she couldn’t keep me.

She had managed to hide her pregnancy from her parents for four or five months. On a family road trip from their home in Seattle to Montana she got sick, and her mom grew suspicious. By the time they got back she knew the jig was up—she came clean.

They handled it okay at first, but after about a month, with rumors swirling around the neighborhood, she was sent off—just like so many others before her. The seventies were a different time.

For the next few months she lived with another pregnant girl and attended “Pregnant Girl School” which was nothing more than a building off of the main high school. Lunch required the pregnant girls to parade through the cafeteria where the other students could call them names and throw food at them.

When the big day came, she sat on the hospital bed and continued to be treated in the same cruel manner, only this time it was the nurses doing the name calling. Had she been the same age, but married, she would have been treated like an angel.

The cruelty took its toll. She told the nurses that the papers were wrong. Of course she wasn’t giving up her baby, it was going to come home with her. And three days later that’s what happened.

For the next few days she held me in her arms, knowing full well that she couldn’t keep me. Eventually she picked up the phone and the social worker came and got me. I can’t imagine the pain she must have felt that day, or how difficult that decision could have been to make, but I can say that it was for the best. There’s no way to know for sure how things would have turned out, but it is hard to imagine my life having gone any better than it has.

A month later my mom got a phone call that she didn’t expect to get for at least another six months—they had a baby boy for her.

February 8th will alway be a special day for the two of us. Adoption Day. From that day forward I was her son. I would always know I was adopted. I have no memory of being told that I was, I’ve just always known. My mom deserves a lot of credit for that I think. And I also think that because I always knew and understood, that being adopted never became a part of my identity. In fact, at times years could pass without my ever thinking of it. That sounds kind of unbelievable, but it’s true.

My mom’s first marriage didn’t work out. She remarried when I was two, and my dad adopted me days later. I was their son. End of sentence. End of story. Nobody was ashamed to admit that I was their adopted son, but nobody dwelled on it either. When people would see us together, me towering over both of my dark-haired parents with my blonde hair and blue eyes, they would occasionally ask, and we’d happily explain.

And so it would go for years and years. One happy family.

It really wasn’t until I had kids of my own that the true extent of what my birth-mother had done for me began to set in. Every couple of months I’d think, “I need to find a way to tell her that I’m good. That I’ve had an amazing life. That I thank her for what she did for me.”

But life would get in the way. And before I knew it another three months had gone by and I’d still done nothing. Then a year. Then five.

Back in December I explained to the kids for the first time that I am adopted, and what exactly that means. I don’t remember now what we were talking about that brought on the conversation, but I knew that they were getting to the age (five and three) that they could understand. And they did, more or less.

The very next day Ali was checking e-mail when she said to me, “Your birth mom is looking for you.”

It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I did think the timing was rather uncanny.

It’s funny, I am a pretty public person, but the mediator had a heck of a time tracking me down. She finally found some reference to my in-laws, and made the connection.

For the next two months I sat on that e-mail. We were driving around Baja, and then bumming on the beaches of mainland Mexico. I can procrastinate with the best of them. During that time I was leaning on a decision which had two possible answers for me. One, I write a letter and just let her know all is well, but remain anonymous. Two, I get in touch.

I stewed on that for a while actually.

My mom actually yelped when I told her. She was so excited. My mom has always thought about my birth mother. She’s always felt a tremendous gratitude toward her, and the thought that she might be able to tell her that herself after all of these years was very exciting.

Eventually I got in touch.

For the past few months we’ve been exchanging e-mails. No, no phone calls. Everyone knows I hate the phone.

My birth mom lives in Seattle again, after a lot of middle years in Indiana. We were stranded in the midwest at the same time, and now we were both back in the Pacific NW at the same time.

This weekend we met. We hadn’t seen each other since 1974. I had no memory of it, while her memory of it hadn’t faded a bit.

The meeting went great. She’s a terrific woman. Seeing her you could sense that a weight had been lifted, and really, that’s all I’ve wanted for her for years now. Just to know. So she wouldn’t have any regrets or guilt. So she could be happy.

It’s weird in a way. I’ve had such a good life, and such amazing parents, that I was always able to feel that I loved my birth mom, while at the same time I was okay and not out there searching for answers. That feels a little cruel when I say it—it’s not meant to—but we’ve talked about it and she understands. She carried me for nine months, gave birth, and looked in my eyes, while I didn’t get to have those memories. It took her a while, but she realized as well that that was really the best possible outcome of the adoption. I was, and am, a happy and content child.

And that’s that. Reunited. It feels good. We’re all struggling a bit to understand how we fit into one another’s lives, but we’ll figure it out. We had forty-one years without each other, hopefully we’ve got forty-one more left in us together.



The Portland Routine

Our Portland routine rarely changes very much. We hang out around the house a lot, playing with new toys and digging out old ones. We visit the park across the street daily. We spend time cleaning whatever old vehicle we have around at the time. We hit the ice rink on rainy days. And of course, Grammy and the kids bake cookies.

We also get ready for heading back to the beach soon.


But not too soon. Ouest doesn’t care that it is the end of September—she wants to see her new garden sprout.

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I love going skating with the kids. Hockey was pretty much my life from age six to eighteen. It’s a pleasure for me to see them skating around having fun with it too. Lowe really began to nail it down this time out, and as he got better—literally as the minutes went by—his joy grew exponentially. Ouest has gotten so good that she spends the whole time skating laps on her own, proud of herself.


We have one plastic bin of belongings at my mom’s house. It’s mostly yearbooks and Porsche/VW/Travco parts. Going through it Lowe grabbed a magazine and started flipping through it. “I found you guys!”



Portland—End of the Road

Two-thousand four-hundred and seventy-five miles down the road from St. Paul, Minnesota, is a little place called Portland, Oregon. When we woke up in Pendleton today everyone was ready to get there and see Grammy. We bombed through the Columbia Gorge to get there.

The road trip was excellent. Our whole life is a road trip really, but this was different. This was more like the road trips we’d take as kids—luggage strapped to the outside of cars, gas station treats, hotel rooms, and peeing on the side of the road. It was a different view of America than the kids have gotten in the past, and for all of us it was a welcome vacation.

The Porsche was amazing. It celebrated fifty years on the road without a hiccup. We averaged one-hundred-sixty-five miles per day for fifteen days, with today being our biggest at two-oh-five. Twenty-five miles to the gallon the whole way, even with that sixty pound wind drag strapped to the back. Just one point five quarts of oil, and best of all, I didn’t take the tools out once. We love this car. German engineering at its finest.

[In case you didn’t notice, there are two new posts behind this one with the kids’ perspective.]

The kids—especially considering their confined space—were great. We didn’t have a single time-out after South Dakota. Neither of them complained once the entire trip. Days were filled with excitement about what was coming up next, even when that might be nothing more than a playground in a tiny town.

The two of them got along better than they ever have. Ali and I can’t decide if that is just their age, that Lowe is finally catching up to Ouest in terms of development, or what. But whatever it is, it’s great. Having Ouest run up to Lowe saying, “Come on Lowe! Come on!” is something we’ve been waiting a long time to see. They laughed and laughed in that tiny back seat doing silly things that only kids do. And I don’t know how many dirty sock wars we had, but it was pretty much impossible to say no to. The look of mischief in Lowe’s eyes when he launched a sock at us, and then the belly laughter that followed when we returned fire, was priceless.

Overall it was just a fantastic trip. Better than any of us expected—even better than all the hype we’d been giving the kids during the lead up.

I love the road.

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It’s not polite to show up in Portland these days without two things—a beard, and a pink cowboy hat. That’s just the rules out here.

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Just to give a sense of how small this car is, Lowe is still buckled into his seat here.



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Lowe’s Lens

The road trip through Lowe’s eyes.

Lowe took 450 pictures on the trip. What I realized when going through them was: One, he is shutter happy. Two, he spent a lot of time looking at the back of my head. Three, that three feet off the ground makes for a tough angle to get adult’s heads in the shot. And lastly, that even though he is only four, he has his own interesting perspective on life. He did a great job of capturing the essence of our Americana Road Trip.

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